“Just pretend we’re in Africa during the wet season”.
Sue’s words brought a chuckle as we peered through steady rain and jumped ever-widening puddles at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, near the Australian regional city of Dubbo.
Covering three square kilometres of the central-west of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous State, the zoo is undoubtedly seen at its best in mild and dry weather.
It was anything but dry for us.
We were there with two of our grandchildren – and were also anonymously seeing how well the zoo catered for older visitors.
In both cases, the attraction scored top marks.
Our grandchildren loved the open plains style of the zoo, where they were able to see the mainly grazing animals roaming, feeding and playing free from walls and fences.
Concealed moats divide the exhibits from visitors, creating the impression of actually being with the animals in the wild.
This feeling is strengthened by well-placed viewing platforms sitting even higher above the open ranges.
Undeterred by the weather, the grandchildren donned rain ponchos and were pleased to find that, in most cases, the cooler, damp conditions encouraged the animals out in the open.
The zoo has an emphasis on animal conservation and we listened to a couple of talks about endangered animals and threats such as palm oil production to native habitat.
We drove our car around the zoo’s six-kilometre circuit road, stopping regularly to wander among exhibition areas containing lions, tigers, elephant, zebra, giraffe, rhinos, hippos, antelope, monkeys and otters.
Despite the rain, we managed to see most of the park, which is said to contain almost 100 species from Africa, Asia, North America, Australia and South America.
Ideal for senior visitors
The second reason for our visit – to examine the attraction’s particular suitability for senior visitors – proved an easy task.
To its credit, Taronga Western Plains Zoo offers reduced prices for many seniors. Concessions apply for holders of Australian Pension Cards, certain Australian Health Cards and Seniors Cards.
There are a number of disabled car parking spaces located at the front entrance, as well as around the Zoo circuit.
If necessary, it is possible to see most exhibits from the circuit, but a few require a short walk on mainly flat ground.
The zoo hires both pushbikes and electric carts
Direction and assistance signage throughout the zoo is large, clear and easy to follow.
Most of the Zoo is accessible by wheelchair and all-terrain manual wheelchairs are available at no cost through an advance booking service (02 6881 1400)
Identification is required, a disclaimer form must be completed, seat belts worn and the wheelchairs must be pushed by a carer/companion.
The African Savannah Tower is the only raised platform that is not accessible by wheelchair, however, that can be viewed from ground level.
Wheelchair accessible toilets are located around the Zoo circuit and in the entrance plaza.
The zoo has dedicated caravan and trailer parking inside the entry gates, along with a free mobile home service point.
There’s also no need to rush a visit to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, because the entry fee provides admission on two consecutive day
Taronga Western plains Zoo is on the outskirts of Dubbo, New South Wales.
Dubbo is a five-to-six hour drive from Sydney via either the Castlereagh, Mitchell or Golden highways.
The Zoo is a five minute drive south of Dubbo on the Newell Highway. A public bus service operates Monday – Saturday.
Dubbo also has a taxi service,
Alternatively, Dubbo is a one hour flight from Sydney, with a number of air services to and from Dubbo City Airport by Qantas and Regional Express
The area can also be reached from Sydney by rail – a top about seven hours. Train services operate daily from Sydney. See how to book.